4K, Other Developments Point to Revival for 3DTV

Fred Dawson, Editor, ScreenPlays Magazine

Fred Dawson, Editor, ScreenPlays Magazine

Is there a second round of opportunity ahead for 3DTV?

Judging from the emphatic contrasts 4K proponents were drawing at the Consumer Electronics Show between the case for Ultra HD and the lack thereof for 3D, the consensus appears to be that consumers’ verdict on the matter is final.

No one was in a better position to draw that distinction than 3net Studios president and CEO Tom Cosgrove, whose Discovery, Sony and IMAX-backed network was created to deliver 3D content. Unlike the 3D TV set purchasing decision, the decision whether to buy a 4K TV set “is not a choice of do I like it or don’t I,” Cosgrove said. “It’s clearly a better technology. It’s a better visual experience.”

Making the point even more emphatically, TV set maker Vizio announced it was discontinuing manufacture of 3D sets. And in the big exhibits of Vizio’s competitors, one had to look hard among the 4K displays to find any 3D sets.

The sorry state of affairs was well documented in a research report issued last summer by Informa, which predicted that while there would be 430 million 3D TV sets in households worldwide by the end of 2017, representing a penetration of about 28 percent, viewers in only 113 million households would actually be watching 3DTV programming. Lack of programming has definitely been a barrier to consumer acceptance.

But that chicken never could hatch without eyeballs. The fact that viewing required 3D glasses was widely viewed as the killer issue for consumers, which doused any enthusiasm in TV circles for producing 3D content.

And then there was the bandwidth issue, which forced the few 3D program channels that were out there to squeeze the two 3D feeds of any given video into the bandwidth allocated for a 2D HD signal. In contrast, 3D with the equivalent of a full HD picture delivered at 60 frames per second on an alternating basis to each eye represents a far superior experience, as viewers who have used Blu-ray to deliver 3D to their TV sets can attest.

But there’s another scenario emerging which has very much to do with 4K and the impact the 4X resolution of that format could have on the appeal of 3D with respect to the glasses and bandwidth issues. Where bandwidth is concerned, anyone allocating enough bandwidth to deliver 4K will also be supplying bandwidth that’s been missing to deliver 3D in full display mode.

Discussing the potential impact of 4K on 3D during a conversation at CES, Sam Blackman, CEO of the encoding firm Elemental Technologies, commented, “3D will take 15 megabits per second just like a 4K movie would take. It doesn’t actually add additional bandwidth requirements.”

As for the potential of 4K resolution on the 3D glasses issue, Blackman said, “Additional resolution helps for 3D content creation. 4k gives you four times as many pixels. It will be interesting to see whether that increased resolution makes enough of a quality improvement that glasses free is possible and also provides the range of fields that people can sit in any location and still have a good 3d experience.”

Some progress toward an acceptable viewing experience for autostereo or glasses-free 3D was on display at CES. Florida-based 3D TV manufacturer IZON touted 150-degree viewing angles for autostereo 3D sets, which it said would go on sale in the second quarter. Sharp showed an 85-inch 8K resolution autostereo set with 28 viewing positions.

These were not ideal solutions. The viewing angle was wide with the IZON sets but they required viewing to be on the same plane as the TV set. Viewers of the Sharp display could see a spectacular display of the movie “Life of Pi” as long as they were precisely positioned in one of the 28 narrow viewing tunnels. But the demonstrations showed the industry was making progress on the autostereoscopic front.